The Truth About Cars » ES350 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 01 Aug 2014 14:09:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » ES350 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2014 Kia Cadenza (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-kia-cadenza-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-kia-cadenza-with-video/#comments Fri, 30 Aug 2013 22:08:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=501244 Kia has big plans for America. The Korean brand that was written off in the 1990s, and is best known for making inexpensive cars with long warranties, isn’t planning an assault on the mass market. Kia has bigger plans: compete head on with Lexus, BMW and Mercedes. Say what? Yep. By 2017 Kia promises they […]

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2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Kia has big plans for America. The Korean brand that was written off in the 1990s, and is best known for making inexpensive cars with long warranties, isn’t planning an assault on the mass market. Kia has bigger plans: compete head on with Lexus, BMW and Mercedes. Say what? Yep. By 2017 Kia promises they will be ready. Rather than leaping right into the market, Kia is dipping their toes into the murky waters of the near-luxury pool. In many ways the near-luxury segment is a harder place to compete. This segment is full of aspiring brands trying to move up (Buick and Cadillac), brands that are floundering (Acura), brands that are treading water (Volvo and Lexus’s FWD models ), brands trying to expand down (Mercedes with the CLA) and brands that have no idea what their mission is (Lincoln). Into this smorgasbord lands a sedan that managed to be the most exciting car I have driven this year and the most awkwardly named. Now that I have that spoiler out of the way, let’s dive into the Credenza. I mean Cadenza.

Exterior

Kia has long been accused of copying styles and jamming discordant cues into one product. The pinnacle of this was the unloved Kia Amanti, mercy killed a number of years ago. That model had Mercedes E-Class headlamps, a Jaguar-meets-Chrysler grille, Lincoln tail lamps and a decidedly Town Car profile. The 2014 Cadenza is so different you’d think it was from a different car company. The overall style is “Optima’s big brother” with the same “tiger nose” grille up front. The large grille strikes me as the best interpretation of this style yet, although the plastic accent strip inside the aggressive headlamps struck me as slightly cheesy. There is still something derivative about the Cadenza, the side profile is exactly what a FWD 7-series would look like. (Shorten the hood, stretch the overhang.) Overall the Cadenza’s “smoothed out Optima” lines strike me as conservative and elegant, something that appeals to me.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Before we go further, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the Hyundai Azera. The Cadenza isn’t simply a badge engineered Azera, but neither is it a unique vehicle. Through a convoluted set of financial arrangements, Hyundai and Kia are 32.8%  joined at the hip, which means Hyundai doesn’t “control” Kia and Kia can’t just grab an Azera and stick a Kia logo on the front. Instead what we see are two cars with common drivetrains, crash systems, hard points and bits grabbed from the same parts bin. Think of the Cadenza as the Azera’s younger cousin and not a corporate twin.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Style is a subjective matter, there’s no way around that. I found the Cadenza to be traditional, almost to a fault, on the inside but still handsome. For me that’s a good thing as I don’t tend to gravitate to “ground breaking designs” like crazy asymmetrical dashboards or shifters that require an instruction manual and 30 minutes to master. I found the Azera’s interior to be more unique, but less to my taste. On the flip side there is little about the Cadenza’s interior that creates a burning desire, unless you like value. Being the cheap bastard that I am, words like “value” “bargain” and “deal” light a primeval fire in my loins. Keep that in mind.

As I have said in the past, value is all about cutting corners. Lately Kia has been displaying a level of perspicacity unseen in the competition. This balance is obvious when you look at the dash and doors which combine hard and soft touch plastics. This isn’t unique by itself, what is rare is the placement of the hard bits away from the driver’s reach and a careful matching of color and texture so that its hard to tell what’s hard and what’s not. This is something Lexus got totally wrong with the new ES. Most Cadenzas on my local lot had the optional Alcantara headliner and cream colored leather seats which have a huge impact on the feel of the interior. Faux-suede used to be something you’d only find on high-end European models, but it can be yours for under 40-large in Kia-land. Unlike Chrysler’s application of the soft-stuff, Kia also coats the A, B and C pillars in fake cow. Speaking of fake, the wood isn’t real. The lack of real tree bugs me a hair, but when you consider that a $60,000 Acura still has imitation burl I guess I shouldn’t complain. In terms of interior feel, the Cadenza ranks slightly above the new LaCrosse and Azera and just below the Toyota Avalon. While I think the Acura RLX’s interior was made of nicer bits, the Cadenza isn’t far off and almost everyone had a nicer interior than the current Lexus ES.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Front seat comfort proved good for the driver in the base model and excellent with the optional soft Nappa leather which adds a power extending thigh bolster. You should keep in mind that the front seats aren’t created equally and the passenger seat doesn’t have the same range of motion making it harder for your spouse to find an ideal sitting position. Trust me, I heard the complaints. Being self-centred, this didn’t bother me, but I should note the American competition offers matching controls on their front passenger throne. The Cadenza’s lumbar support hit me at exactly the right spot on my back which is fortunate because unlike the GM sedans the lumbar isn’t adjustable for height.

The Cadenza’s rear compartment was surprising, not just because the seats seemed designed for adults with cushy cushions suspended high off the floor, but because the plastics quality was consistent with the front cabin. That may sound like an odd thing to comment on, but most mass market entries and even cars like the Lincoln MKS and Lexus ES350 gets cheaper bits in the back. Speaking of the back, the Cadenza’s trunk is acceptable for the class at 15.9 cubic feet, notably below the Impala and Taurus with their cavernous trunks. It’s worth noting that the Cadenza’s rear seat backs don’t fold like some of the competition so keep that in mind if you’re a regular IKEA shopper.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

The dashboard of the Cadenza is dominated by a standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment/navigation system dubbed UVO2. The Microsoft-powered system is bright, easily readable and a bit far from the driver. This distance could be a problem if you have short arms or long legs. The Cadenza gets the latest version of Kia’s software featuring full voice commands of your music library, allowing you to select songs and playlists with voice commands ala Ford’s SYNC. Also included is an array of OnStar-like services including vehicle diagnostics, car locator and automatic 911 dialing when your airbags deploy. Unlike OnStar however the system depends on a compatible smartphone being paired with the system and present for these services to work. The lack of a cell modem means you also need a paired smartphone for some of the data services to operate. In an odd ergonomic twist, Kia places the system’s button bank between the screen and the climate controls. The loaded Cadenza we tested gets a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster which houses the speedometer, trip computer, secondary infotainment display and navigation instructions.

Overall the Cadenza’s system is easy to use and intuitive but not as feature rich as some of the other options on the market. Notably uConnect and MyFord Touch offer sexier graphics and better app integration, although the Ford system crashes as often as a 1980s computer. Toyota/Lexus’ systems are getting a little long in the tooth at the high-end with older graphics and a smallish 7-inch screen, and their less expensive systems use small and dim 6.1 inch screens that are easily outclassed. GM’s direct competition is a bit disappointing because the LaCrosse and Impala use the same buggy software as the Cadillac XTS with a different brand attached instead of the excellent systems used in the Buick Verano and Chevy Malibu. If you want to know more, I take a deep dive into UVO2 in the video.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

The Cadenza uses the same 3.3L direct-injection V6 engine as Hyundai’s Azera mated to the same 6-speed automatic transaxle. The six-pot is good for 293 horsepower at 6,400 RPM and 255 lb-ft of toque at 5,200 RPM. These numbers place the Cadenza in the middle of the pack, below the GM triplets and the Acura RLX, but above the Avalon and ES350 and a virtual tie with Chrysler’s 300 V6. When it comes to performance, curb weight and transmission design are  just as critical as raw engine numbers. At around 3,750lbs the Cadenza is lighter than everyone but the new Avalon and ES (around 3,550lbs). In theory, this should skew performance in the Cadenza’s favor, but when the numbers are tabulated the Kia is 3/10ths slower than the RLX to  60 and half a second slower than the Impala and LaCrosse V6. Compared to the AWD XTS, the Cadenza is a hair faster. (The XTS AWD was tested in-house which is why I don’t use a FWD XTS estimate.) The 8-speed V6 Chrysler 300 was the slowest to 60 by around half a second. What gives? The 300 isn’t a light-weight. Our last instrumented test of the Taurus V6 and MKS put the Ford at the bottom of the pack with the 300 and the MKS on par with the Kia.

GM’s 3.6L V6 not only delivers more twist, it also has a broader torque curve and the GM/Ford 6-speed transaxle has an extremely low first gear helping the Impala and LaCrosse get off the line rapidly. Chrysler’s 8-speed auto may be a gem but it can’t re-write the laws of physics, the 300 is just too heavy. At this time Kia isn’t saying if there will ever be an AWD version of the Cadenza, so if you need four-wheel-motivation you need to look to elsewhere.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Pricing

$35,100, $38,100 and $41,100. That’s all you need to know about the Cadenza’s pricing since the up-scale sedan only comes in three flavors. Why the lack of variation? It keeps prices low and helps inventory issues as the Cadenza is made in Korea. The Cadenza is extremely well-featured at the base price with standard heated leather seats, navigation, backup camera, keyless go, dual-zone climate control, 10-way driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar support and rain-sense wipers. This price point sets the Kia at a slight discount versus the main-stream competition, and about $1,600 cheaper than a Lexus ES350 or Lincoln MKS. If that doesn’t sound like a “deal” yet, hang on. For $38,100 Kia adds a ginormous sunroof, HID headlamps, ventilated driver’s seat, heated rear seats, electric tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power extending thigh bolster (driver’s seat only), a seat/wheel memory system, power rear sun shade, a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster and snazzy Nappa leather seats. This level of Cadenza is where the value proposition starts slotting in $2,500 less than the LaCrosse and $4,000 less than an ES350 or MKS before you take into account the features you just can’t get on the competition. Jump to $41,100 and Kia tosses in 19-inch wheels, radar cruise control with full-speed range ability, blind spot warning, lane departure prevention, an automatic electric parking brake, water-phobic glass and (if you select the no-cost white leather) the faux-suede headliner. This is the option level where the Cadenza (like most Kias) starts to shine. The loaded Kia is a $7,000 discount vs the Lexus ES350 which is an apt comparison. The Kia doesn’t offer real wood but it does offer a nicer interior and a few features you won’t find on the Lexus like the LCD disco dash. Compared to the Acura RLX we had the week before, the Cadenza is nearly $20,000 less expensive. The discount is similarly large with you compare the Cadenza to the XTS and smaller vs the MKS.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The one area where the Cadenza didn’t surprise was behind the wheel. Kia’s relative inexperience in the near-luxury market shows, if you know where to look. However the delta between the Kia and the competition, once as wide as the grand canyon,  is now a light shade of grey. Although very well controlled, the Cadenza exhibited slightly more torque steer and wheel hop than you’ll find in GM’s Epsilon II triplets or the Avalon/ES sisters. Of course when it comes to driving dynamics the Chrysler 300′s rear wheel drive layout is the clear winner. When it comes to absolute grip, the Cadenza is likely the equal of the Impala and Avalon, however the steering is not as communicative and the chassis isn’t quite as predictable or refined. Don’t think that makes the Cadenza “feel cheap”, far from it. The Cadenza nails the ” substantial”  feel that this large sedan category is known for.

While drivers will notice the Cadenza is a hair less sophisticated than the competition, passengers are unlikely to notice. The Cadenza’s springs and dampers did an admirable job of soaking up road imperfections around town and are tuned to land somewhere between the Acura RLX’s sportier aspirations and the pillow-soft ride of the LaCrosse. Cabin noise in the Cadenza is extremely well controlled on all road surfaces and thanks all throttle positions. In some ways the Cadenza was too quiet, hushing the engine’s emissions during our 0-60 testing.

In a straight line the Cadenza’s gear ratios and relative lack of low end torque make the Kia feel sluggish compared to the competition, something I hadn’t expected given the engine specs. Part of this is a transmission that feels reluctant to downshift which takes some of the joy out of mountain driving. Fortunately Kia includes paddle shifters so you can command the gears, but in comparison the Ford/GM transaxle and Chrysler’s ZF sourced unit seem psychic in comparison.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When it comes to nannies and gadgets Kia took an interesting line. The Cadenza has lane departure warning but no prevention system tied to it unlike Lincoln and Acura’s systems. On the flip side Kia over-delivers with the radar cruise control system. Acura’s systems brake too hard and too early, Infiniti’s systems brake hard and late, most of the other systems on the market are a combination of the two and the majority give up when speeds drop below 20MPH. Much like the systems on current Volvo and Mercedes models however the Kia system drives like a moderately cautious driver, braking progressively but smoothly to a complete stop, and accelerating at a moderate rate when traffic resumes. The system is so fluid that passengers didn’t know the car was “driving itself”  in heavy traffic until I told them to pay attention to my right leg.

After a week with the Cadenza and 611 miles I have to admit I was hooked and that’s not something I say often. The Cadenza’s elegant but restrained looks, comfortable and well-assembled interior, heavy gadget content and value pricing are an incredibly compelling combo. The interior and sticker price more than justify the negatives I encountered during the week. The only major problem with the Cadenza is the Kia logo on the hood. This begs the question: is luxury looking expensive or feeling coddled? At higher price points I would argue you need both, but near luxury is about value and that’s where the Cadenza shines. I’m not sure about Kia’s Mercedes ambitions, but one thing’s for sure, the Cadenza puts Acura on notice and Lexus needs to watch their back.

 

Hit it or Quit it?

Hit it

  • It turns out you can have an Acura at Honda prices.
  • Alcantara headliners rock.
  • Near-luxury without near-pretentiousness

Quit it

  • Can you handle your premium car’s discount badge?
  • I had expected better performance numbers.

 

Kia provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.51 Seconds

0-60: 6.08 Seconds

1/4 mile: 14.67 Seconds @ 97 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 24.5 MPG over 611 miles

 

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-001 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-002 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-003 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-004 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-005 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-006 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-007 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-008 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-010 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-011 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-012 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior-015 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-002 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-003 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-004 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-006 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-007 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-009 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-010 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-011 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-012 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-013 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-014 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior-015 2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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Review: 2013 Lexus ES 300h Hybrid (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/review-2013-lexus-es-300h-hybrid-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/review-2013-lexus-es-300h-hybrid-video/#comments Mon, 25 Mar 2013 11:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=481436 The ES has been Lexus’ best-selling sedan for 15 years yet the front-driver started life as something of a side-show. In 1989 the ES was a thinly veiled Camry, supposedly rushed to market because Lexus dealers couldn’t envision launching a brand with one vehicle (the LS 400) and were unwilling to wait for the SC […]

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The ES has been Lexus’ best-selling sedan for 15 years yet the front-driver started life as something of a side-show. In 1989 the ES was a thinly veiled Camry, supposedly rushed to market because Lexus dealers couldn’t envision launching a brand with one vehicle (the LS 400) and were unwilling to wait for the SC and GS. This explanation makes sense to me and explains why the ES was the only FWD car in a brand created to compete with the Germans. Of course, this odd fit within a full-range RWD luxury brand is exactly why the ES sells. Wonder why Acura’s wares never had the sales success of the ES? It’s all about the brand baby.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The first ES was a Camry with an LS 400 aping nose job. Since then the ES and the Camry were developed together on a common platform, but with every passing redesign the marriage has become more rocky with the two sharing less and less with one another. Like any couple “trying a separation,” divorce was inevitable. For 2014 the papers are served and the ES is now shacking up with the Camry’s big sister, the 2014 Toyota Avalon. Oh, the tongues will wag.

The platform swap means the ES has grown an inch in length, an inch in height and the wheelbase has stretched nearly two inches over the 2012 ES, making it two inches longer than the new GS. LS owners shouldn’t fear, as the flagship is still the biggest Japanese luxury vehicle on the market. For 2013 Lexus has ditched the former ES’s suppository side profile for a blunter nose, taller greenhouse, longer hood and shorter trunk. The new proportions make the ES look like one of the family, not an accident that happened later. It also makes the new Lexus spindle grill look particularly good in my mind, not something I was able to say about the GS or some of the other mugs wearing the new grin.

Interior

Snazzy gizmos aren’t worth anything if they aren’t delivered in style, just ask Apple. The redesign brings the ES’s interior game up a few notches in some ways and down in others. The dashboard now features the latest in automotive interiors crazes: the faux-stitch. Like Buick’s LaCrosse, the ES uses a standard injection-molded dashboard that is then run through a sewing machine (by hand, because this is still a Lexus) to put real stitching on fake seams. While I appreciate the extra effort, I must point out that the ES’ sister-ship Avalon uses real pieces of pleather mechanically quilted together on a sewing machine and fewer hard plastics within easy reach of the driver. As a result I found the Alvaon to have a more premium look and feel with the exception of the fake-wood in the Toyota. Yea, I scratched my head too.

The interior’s design mimics the two-level style introduced in the 2011 GS. Basically we have an inset infotainment/navigation LCD in the dash separated from the system controls by satin nickel and wood trim. I’m still unsure if this is a design theme I’m happy with, let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. While fit and finish in our ES tester was excellent, we found more hard plastic in this cabin than in the old model and while it didn’t bug me on the preview junket a year ago, it did raise my eyebrows after having the new Avalon for a week. On the flip side, all ES hybrid models get new light bamboo wood which has to be one of the most appealing wood veneers I have seen in a vehicle cabin.

The ES’ front seats contort in 10-ways with an optional extending thigh cushion on the driver’s side. Thanks to supple padding and improved NuLuxe (pleather) upholstery on the base hybrid and regular or semi-aniline leather on up-level trims, your backside won’t notice you racking up highway miles. The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid may have a slightly snazzier interior, but the ES’ front seats are more comfortable. The steering wheel is borrowed from the GS sedan, complete with soft leather. Should you want a more premium tiller, the same bamboo can be applied to two-thirds of the wheel and heating is optional as well.

Rear passengers are treated to the most rear legroom of any Lexus sedan – including the six-digit LS 600hL. If you look at the picture above, the driver’s seat is positioned for a 6-foot tall driver in a somewhat reclined position. The result is more combined (front/rear) legroom than a Lincoln MKS or a short wheelbase 7-Series. Since the ES has a more mature audience in mind, the rear seat bottom cushions are higher off the floor making them more comfortable for adults than a Camry. Sadly, the cushy rear seat have something of a flaw: they don’t fold. I had hoped the old Avalon’s reclining rear seats would have made it to the ES, but they were lost on the cutting room floor for both vehicles. ES 350 shoppers get a ski pass-through to help ease the pain, but hybrid lovers must not be winter-sports folks; that opening is plugged by the battery. Speaking of batteries, the nickel-hydride battery pack exacts a trunk-toll of 3.1 cubic feet, reducing your cargo hold to 12.1 cubes, a heftier price than hybrid GS buyers pay.

Infotainment & Gadgets

For $39,250, base ES 300h models get an 8-speaker audio system with Bluetooth and iPod integration and XM radio. Opting for the $740 “display audio” option, buys a 7-inch LCD coupled with a Lexus-branded surround-sound system and backup cam. You will be hard pressed to find either of these on dealer lots as an inventory search by my local dealer turned up zero ES 300h base models in California and exactly two of nearly 300 ES hybrids on dealer lots. That’s fine by me since I demand more toys on my ride.

Most ES options are sold bundled in packages ranging from the $5,250 “premium” to the $10,650 “ultra luxury.” All packages bump you up to the 8-inch LCD navigation/infotainment system, include an electric power tilt/telescoping tiller, in-dash DVD player, and a steering wheel with wood inlays. In addition to iPod/USB media voice control, smartphone text messaging and app integration, the system has ditched the intuitive touchscreen interface for my least favorite input method: Lexus Remote Touch, aka the Lexus joystick. The joystick is intuitive to use because it’s just like a mouse on your computer. You wiggle the controller and the cursor on the screen wiggles. Simple enough, right? I have two problems with it. First, it occupies a great deal of room on the center console, an area the Avalon uses for more conveniently located latté-holders. Secondly, the basic software driving the system hasn’t changed since the touchscreen days. See the problem? With the old system you could glance at the screen, look back up at the road and let your right hand stab the option, even my 91-year-old grandmother has the hand-eye co-ordination to do that. With Remote Touch you have to spend far more time watching the screen to see if the cursor is on the option you want, a potentially dangerous situation if you like playing with your gadgets while you drive. Want to enter an address using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard? It’s obvious why Lexus won’t let you do that in motion. The Avalon uses a version of the same software but retains the touchscreen interface and oddly enough the ES’ base audio system (one notch above the LCD-free ES) uses a knob-style controller like Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

The ES wouldn’t be a Lexus without a few gadgets and expensive options. Top on my list are the $3,745 (yes, you read that right) Mark Levinson sound system which sounds fantastic (as it should for the price), $500 parking sensors, $400 power opening/closing trunk, and the $1,500 radar-based active cruise control with pre-collision warning. Of course all these gizmos are included with the ultra-luxury package bringing the top-end ES 300h to a cool $50,795.

Drivetrain

The Avalon Hybrid, Camry Hybrid and ES 300h share the same hybrid drivetrain. Driving the system is a new-for-2012 2.5L 2AR-FXE four-cylinder engine. Running on the Atkinson cycle, the four-pot puts out 156 HP and 153 lb-ft of twist. That engine is coupled to a revised Lexus Hybrid Drive transaxle (labelled as Toyota Synergy Drive in Toyota products), in essence a beefier Prius hybrid system. The planetary gearset and two motor/generator combination allow the system to drive electric only for short distances at limited speeds, motivate the vehicle solely on engine power or combine the 156HP with extra juice from the battery pack in the trunk to deliver 200 ponies until the battery has been depleted. Lexus doesn’t specify a combined torque rating for the ES Hybrid, but based on the 7.24 scoot to 60 we clocked, I estimate the combined number is around 200-220 lb-ft. That run to 60 is a hair faster than the MKZ and about 1/2 a second better than the LaCrosse eAssist.

Performance is better than these numbers might indicate thanks to 199 lb-ft from 0-1500RPM courtesy of the hybrid motor. Lexus is sticking to nickel based batteries and not the trendier Lithium batteries found in the Lincoln. Despite this, the ES averaged an impressive 42 MPG over 780 miles of mixed driving. While that may sound worse than the MKZ’s 47/47/47MPG trifecta, nobody seems to be getting more than 39 in the Detroit hybrid. Meanwhile the ES bested it’s 2008 EPA numbers of 40/39/40 (City/Highway/Combined.)

Drive

There is no other front-wheel-drive hybrid with a luxury logo on the grille to compare to the ES 300h. Sure we have the eAssist Buick LaCrosse and the Lincoln MKZ, but aside from the MKZ being a size-class down and the LaCrosse not being a “true” hybrid (its not even sold as such), neither brand has the same cachet as Lexus. Remember what I said at the beginning? The ES’s strongest selling point is its brand. If BMW made a large, soft front driver, you can be sure its sales would exceed the ES. What does that have to do with the way the ES hybrid drives? Everything. You see, the way the ES handles, brakes and accelerates isn’t as important to the stereotypical driver as the way the car looks, the logo on the grille, how quiet it is, how reliable it is and hoe well the dealers treat you. When it comes to these qualities the ES 300h is the prefect driving appliance.

The ES’s cabin is still peaceful at highway speeds but Buick’s dedication to sound deadening is extreme and the LaCrosse is quieter under most circumstances especially in terms of engine noise. Since the three FWD luxury hybrids all use four-cylinder engines, sound deadening is important. Despite growing in this generation, the ES’ ride isn’t as thoroughly damped as the outgoing model, that’s thanks to Lexus’ efforts to make the ES handle less like a marshmallow. The suspension engineer’s efforts paid off with the ES feeling neither too floaty nor too harsh. The 215/55R17s our tester wore had more grip than I had expected and the ES hybrid didn’t head for the bushes when driven hard. When the road started winding the ES never felt sloppy or out-of-place maintaining its Lexus trademark poise over broken pavement and uneven turns. When it comes to absolute horizontal grip the ES comes in behind the competition, mostly due to the wide 245/40R17s worn by the LaCrosse and the 225/50R17s on the MKZ Hybrid.

Still, the overall experience is what the ES is about, it’s about dealership satisfaction, a polished purchasing experience and a long warranty. The competition has caught up here as well with the MKZ Hybrid and LaCrosse aAssist delivering the same bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranty terms and Lincoln is now tossing in 4 years and 50,000 miles of scheduled maintenance. The ES 300h’s trump cards remain the same as before: Lexus’s brand image and their reliability reputation. There’s just one further problem: the 2013 Avalon Hybrid. The Avalon Hybrid Limited starts higher than the ES 300h at $41,295 but ends far lower at $44,145 despite having an incredibly similar feature set. Our friends over at TrueDetla.com tell us the price difference ends up at $4,476 for comparably equipped models. Is the Lexus brand, a longer warranty and a snazzy dealership worth the difference?

Hit it

  • Excellent fuel economy.
  • “Short” four-year payback vs the non-hybrid ES.
  • Lexus warranty, reliability reputation and that all-important brand image.

Quit it

  • Lexus Remote Touch is harder to use than the old touchscreen system.
  • Plenty of hard plastics within easy reach.
  • The Avalon hybrid is a better value.

 

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.95 Seconds

0-60: 7.24 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.67 Seconds @ 91.1 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 41.2 MPG over 785 Miles

2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Dashboard Trim, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Steering Wheel Wood Trim, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment Lexus Enform, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment Lexus Enform, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment Lexus Enform, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Infotainment, Lexus Enforn, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment Lexus Enform, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Remote Touch Controller, Infotainment, Lexus Enform controller, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Bamboo Trim, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Cargo Room, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Drivetrain, 3.0L Hybrid System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Drivetrain, 3.0L Hybrid System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, HID Headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h hybrid, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Front Overhang, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, Infotainment, Remote Touch, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesQ Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/review-2013-cadillac-ats-3-6-awd/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/review-2013-cadillac-ats-3-6-awd/#comments Wed, 06 Feb 2013 10:15:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=475106 BMW’s 3-Series is always the benchmark, always the target, and always on a pedestal. So when GM announced Cadillac would once again “complete head-on” with BMW’s money-maker, the world yawned. Then an interesting thing happened, publications started fawning over the ATS, proclaiming the 3-Series has met its match. Could such a thing be true? Even […]

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BMW’s 3-Series is always the benchmark, always the target, and always on a pedestal. So when GM announced Cadillac would once again “complete head-on” with BMW’s money-maker, the world yawned. Then an interesting thing happened, publications started fawning over the ATS, proclaiming the 3-Series has met its match. Could such a thing be true? Even our own Michael Karesh was smitten by the ATS at a launch event. To find out how the ATS matches up with its German rival, Cadillac tossed us the keys to a loaded ATS 3.6 AWD. Can Cadillac beat BMW at their own game? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

While the ATS fails to make a dramatic new statement of Cadillac’s “Art and Science” design, it is the most balanced rendition of the form to date. Compared to the 3-Series, the ATS strikes a more aggressive pose in the parking lot thanks to the hard lines and aggressive stance. Up front, Cadillac has kept the bold angular grille we’re used to, but ditched most of chrome bling found on other Cadillacs. Out back you’ll find a short trunk overhang with a perky tail light/spoiler and “mini-fins.” You may laugh, but I think the resurrection of Cadillac fins and funky tail lamps are some of the best touches on the ATS.

Does that make the ATS better than the 3 on the outside? Not for me, but your mileage will vary. The ATS is undeniably more expressive, flashier and aggressive compared to the plain-Jane A4, dowdy C350 or the elegant (but very reserved) 3. Oddly enough it’s BMW’s understated elegance and limo-like proportions that do it for me. What does that mean for you? If you’re a traditional BMW 3-Series shopper, then the  ATS is more likely to be your thing. If you’re after a soft entry level luxury sedan but the ES350 is “too FWD”, the 3′s long hood, soft suspension and graceful lines will seal the deal. In my mind the 3 and the ATS tie in this category.

Interior

The ATS wears, hands-down, the best production cabin GM has made. The styling may not be your cup of tea, but the interior possessed none of the strange quality concerns I noticed in the new XTS. Does that mean the Caddy has the best cabin in the segment? No, that award still ends up a tie between Audi and Volvo. However, the ATS’s cabin is nearly the equal of the 3-Series. Why nearly? It’s all about consistency.

Everything inside the BMW’s cabin is of a similar quality, from buttons on the dash to the headliner, everything is exactly what you expect from a $30,000-$55,000 car. The ATS on the other hand is full of “highs and lows.” Caddy’s highs include perfect dashboard stitching, comfortable seats and an excellent tiller. Sadly the gauge cluster didn’t get the memo. Instead of the SRX’s funky new three circle gauge cluster, buyers get the frumpy base gauges from the “this is your Grandfather’s Cadillac” XTS. Still, it would all have been OK if Caddy had offered the XTS’s  gorgeous full-LCD cluster as an option, but sadly it wasn’t to be. In our Facebook page’s weekly “hit it or quit it” contest, the ATS’s dials received a unanimous “quit it.” The fervor even spawned a Vellum Venom Vignette. What was all the drama about? Check out the day/night comparison below.

The ATS is available in an impressive array of interior colors, something lacking in many European sedans. While our tester arrived wearing a Germanic black-on-black-on-black ensemble, a quick trip to my local dealer revealed (thankfully) that the tasteful red and black interior and light grey interior with brown dashboard and door treatments were easy on the eyes and plentiful on the lots. Another rarity I noticed is a passenger seat with the same range of motion as the driver’s seat making long journeys more comfortable for your spouse.

When it comes to seating and cargo hauling, Cadillac benchmarked the last generation 3. As a result, front and rear accommodations are comfortable but snug with leg room coming in several inches behind the 3 and A4. The trunk also comes up short at 10.2 cubes vs the 12.4 cubes from the A4 and C350 or the ginormous 17 cubic foot trunk in the BMW. While the ATS represents huge strides in quality from GM, the tighter quarters and lack of consistency shown in cabin trappings gives the BMW the edge in this category.

Infotainment & Gadgets

Today’s compact luxury sedans come with more computing power than a 1990s dorm room. While the Euro players favor infotainment systems driven by a knob and button array, Cadillac has followed Lincoln’s lead with a 100% touch-screen driven interface called “Cadillac User Experience” or CUE. Caddy makes the system standard on all but the base 2.5 and 2.0 turbo models of the ATS although base shoppers can add it as a $1,350 option. The heart of the system is a gorgeous 8-inch LCD. Up till now, most touchscreen systems have used the older “resistive” touchscreen tech which uses a soft, matte plastic surface to detect digits. Displays like this (MyLincoln Touch uses this type of screen) can easily scratch and images can look “fuzzy” since you are viewing the image through the touchscreen layer. Cadillac stuck out their neck and used a more expensive “capacitive” touchscreen with a hard surface that is easy to clean, scratch-resistant, and delivers graphics that are crisper than any system I have seen to date. What was Caddy’s muse? Think iPad.

Cadillac tossed in “natural” voice commands for the entire system (including USB and iPod control), three high power USB ports (capable of charging an iPad), and smartphone app integration. If you want to know more about CUE, check out the video at the top of the review.

In comparison to BMW’s iDrive, the ATS’s touch buttons and iPadesque operation wow for a while, but proved less elegant and less reliable than iDrive after the first few hours. Keep in mind that CUE is in its first release while iDrive is the product of a decade of software development. The difference shows. While I haven’t seen iDrive crash since 2002, CUE crashed several times during the week. In addition, “multi-touch” gestures for “zooming” the map sound cool, but the response time was slow and the process proved more aggravating than useful. Cadillac’s mapping software is a notch below BMW’s in terms of visual appeal and the system just isn’t as intuitive as the latest build of iDrive.

Cadillac counters their “youthful” software with a bevy of standard and available features that you won’t find on many of the non-BMW competition including a full color heads up display, magnetic ride control, cross traffic alert, dynamic cruise control, collision prevention, and front and rear automatic braking in low-speed parking situations. When all the bells and whistles are tallied, the number comes out even, but BMW’s more elegant software gives the Bavarians the edge.

Drivetrain

Competing with the 3 properly, means offering your wares globally and providing a range of small displacement and turbocharged engines. As a result, the drivetrain chart for the ATS starts with a brand-new high-compression 2.5L direct-injection four-cylinder engine designed to battle BMW’s budget 320i. While GM tells us the same engine will find its way under the hood of the Malibu and Impala, Cadillac’s version gets a power bump to 202HP and 192lb-ft with a high 7,000 RPM redline. While this is the engine of choice for rental cars and lease specials, it competes quite well with BMW’s discount 320i with 180HP and 200lb-ft of torque.

Competing with BMW’s 328i (and costing $1,805 more than the 2.5) is GM’s thoroughly redesigned 2.0L turbo. The direct-injection mill packs a serious punch with 272HP and 260lb-ft of twist compared to BMW’s 240HP and 255lb-ft. While Cadillac’s torque curve isn’t as low as the German’s, Cadillac has kept their curb weight low ringing in around 40lbs lighter than the 328i. The difference is small but shows Cadillac was paying attention.

If six cylinders is your thing, Cadillac will jam their 3.6L direct-injection engine under the ATS’s hood for an extra $2,200. The 321HP six-pot cranks out more HP than BMW’s 3.0L turbo I6 (300HP) but delivers less torque (274lb-ft vs 300lb-ft) and of course the lack of a turbo means the 3.6L engine has a torque peak instead of a plateau. Once again Cadillac counters by being lighter, this time by 94lbs.

Regardless of your engine choice, all engines use the same 6-speed GM automatic transmission. If you want to make your BMW owning friends scratch their heads, this is essentially the same transmission used in a variety of BMW 3-Series, X1 and X3 models before BMW started buying the ZF 8-speed. If you opt for the 2.0L or 3.6L engines, Cadillac will drop their AWD system ($2,000) or a Tremec 6-speed manual into the ATS, but sadly the options are mutually exclusive.

As much as I like BMW’s torque-happy 3.0L I6 turbo, Cadillac’s naturally aspirated V6 sounds better. The BMW is still faster to 60 (thank the torque deficit), but the ATS ties with the BMW in my book thanks to the combination of a great sound, no turbo lag and excellent power delivery characteristics. The small turbo match up is more cut and dry. GM’s turbo four cranks out more shove and matches the German mill in terms of refinement. Meanwhile at the bottom of the pile, BMW’s base 320i engine provides more useable power than Caddy’s base engine, but the 2.5L four has a better sound, no lag and is eager to rev.

Refinement and aural sensations are one thing, balanced performance is another and this is where the ATS shines (just not in a straight line). The ATS’s moves on the track are defined by several things: a suspension that is firmer than the sport line 3-Series, excellent weight balance, 225 width rubber on all four corners and “only” six forward gears. Starting with the transmission, while it has a negative impact on MPG numbers, having fewer gears translates into less “hunting” while craving your favorite mountain road. That brings us to the suspension and tires. You’ll find plenty of 335i “sport line” models on the showroom floor with staggered rubber (225 in front, 255 out back) which gives you a bit more traction in the rear for stoplight races. The unequal rubber also causes the 335 understeer a bit more when taking a corner sans-throttle, a situation most drivers find more predictable than oversteer. The ATS on the other hand is extremely neutral in almost every situation. Cadillac’s AWD system turns the moderately “tail happy” ATS into an Audi-esque corner carver sans Audi’s nose-heavy tendencies. Last, and least, the ATS’s steering feel matches or exceeds the feel in the 335i. Why least? Because anything with EPAS is going to be rubbery and numb. If you hadn’t guessed by now, the ATS is the performance winner.

According to my tally sheet, the ATS is one point behind the 3 as we enter the final stretch: pricing. The ATS starts at $33,095 and the new 320i undercuts it at $32,550. If that sounds bad for Cadillac, BMW cuts corners by making leather a $1,450 option among other “decontenting” tricks. For most shoppers the ATS 2.0 is going to be the starting point at $35,795, at which point the ATS is lower than the comparable 3-Series ($36,850) both on paper and at the check out counter. Load up your ATS to the gills with a V6 and AWD and you’re talking $54,000, about $4,000 less than a similar 335xi. Toss in inevitable GM discounts and cheaper financing, and the ATS is the value leader.

Checking back with the tally sheet reveals a dead heat. Is this where the import biased press says “being German gives the 3-Series an extra point“? Not quite. I’m going to resort to an entirely different cop-out: it depends on what you’re after. Huh? Personally, the ATS falls just sort of “beating” the 3-Series, but that’s based on my preferences. If however you’re a BMW fan boy who thinks the new (F30) 3-Series has gone soft (Trust me, it has. That’s why I like it.), the ATS is your “new” E90 BMW. Think of it as E91 by Cadillac. Seriously. The ATS drives like an E90 with a naturally aspirated engine and a slightly dulled steering response. What then is the ultimate driving machine? With BMW succeeding as the “new Mercedes” and Cadillac trying to be the new BMW, your guess is as good as mine. There is one thing I know for sure however: it’s a day to remember when we can talk about a BMW 335 and a Cadillac in the same sentence without any irony.

General Motors provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 1.92 Seconds

0-60: 5.2 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 13.66 Seconds @ 103 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 23 MPG over 598 miles

 

2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Rear Spoiler Brake Light, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Fins, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Finlet, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Infotainment, CUE, Cadillac User Experience, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Cargo Area, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, dashboard, CUE, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, front door, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, Dashboard, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Interior, rear HVAC vents, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Engine, 3.6L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Engine, 3.6L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD, Exterior, Lights, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Pre-Production Review: 2013 Lexus ES 350 & ES 300h http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/pre-production-review-2013-lexus-es-350-es-300h/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/pre-production-review-2013-lexus-es-350-es-300h/#comments Thu, 14 Jun 2012 13:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=447618 The Lexus ES has been the best-selling Lexus sedan for decades, outselling every Lexus model except for the RX. While the ES was originally designed as the Japanese luxury brand’s entry-level vehicle in America, it is slowly becoming one of Lexus’ flagship products. To prove to us that Lexus has what it takes to reign […]

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The Lexus ES has been the best-selling Lexus sedan for decades, outselling every Lexus model except for the RX. While the ES was originally designed as the Japanese luxury brand’s entry-level vehicle in America, it is slowly becoming one of Lexus’ flagship products. To prove to us that Lexus has what it takes to reign supreme in the FWD luxury class they created in 1989, they flew us up to Oregon to sample the all-new, sixth generation ES 350 and 300h hybrid.

Exterior

“Why would you pay more for a fancy Camry?” Every Lexus owner has heard that statement from someone before. For 2013, the new ES rides on a variant of the Toyota Avalon’s skeleton. You won’t find any “Avalon” in the ES’s sheetmetal however. While the ES remains a very sedate sedan, the “spindle grille” seems to suit the ES better than the more expensive GS. Despite sharing nothing with the old ES, the new model is instantly recognizable, and that’s how Lexus owners like it (or so we are told.)

Interior

Aside from the rubbery dash and the wood trim, the old interior had a very “mid-market sedan” feel to it, primarily due to its and aging style. Lexus decided to bring the ES significantly upmarket with an all-new interior themed after the 2013 GS model we sampled earlier in the year. While the style isn’t quite my cup of tea, the fit and finish is perhaps the best in the Lexus lineup, easily rivaling the current generation LS. Regardless of your model or color choice, the dashboard is always black and always sports hand-stitched pleather. Unlike Buick’s molded-then-stitched dash, the ES’s interior is actually crafted by a skilled team of 12 in Japan, on sewing machines. While nobody at Lexus would comment, I couldn’t help drawing a comparison to the Lincoln MKS and Cadillac XTS. Why? Because the ES has grown inside, dishing out a whopping 40 inches of rear legroom (4 more than before, and suspiciously identical to the XTS). The ES’s interior is easily several steps ahead of the domestics when it comes to haptic quality, except for one major faux pas: the key fob. Like the new GS, the ES’s key feels incredibly cheap. Key quibbles aside, the ES delivers all the luxury schtick you could ask for, from heated rear seats and rear window shades to 10 standard airbags and a power trunk lid.

Drivetrain

While the 268HP V6 and 6-speed automatic transaxle are carried over from last year’s ES, Toyota has tweaked the transmission’s shift logic for greater efficiency. We tested the V6 model and it sprinted to 60MPH a hair faster (6.35 seconds) than the 2012 model we tested recently. This is thanks to revised transmission and traction control software that allow the vehicle to apply power with less wheel spin. While these refinements are interesting, the big news for 2013 is the ES hybrid. For the ES 300h, Lexus lifted the hybrid system out of the Camry Hybrid. Delivering 200 total system horsepower and about 200lb-ft of torque (Lexus has not released an official number yet), the system was able to scoot the model we tested to 60 in 7.28 seconds, or 3/10ths of a second slower than the lighter Camry Hybrid. Lexus is promising a luxury-segment besting 40MPG city, 39 city, 40 combined.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Infotainment

Base ES models were unavailable for testing, but we are told they are equipped with an 8-speaker audio system with Bluetooth and iPod integration and XM radio. Opting for the “display audio” buys you a 7-inch LCD coupled with the standard surround-sound system. A bump up to the navigation system gets you an 8-inch screen and opens the door to the 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. The ML system sounds as good as it does in the GS with a very natural balance and an excellent surround system. Sadly, Lexus’s awkward joystick/mouse interface came along for the ride. With Lexus’ market leaning towards older customers, I have a hard time believing my parents would be able to use the system.

Drive

Our brief 120 mile drive around the Oregon countryside, it was obvious there were no major theological shifts at work inside Lexus. The ES is still a softly sprung FWD highway cruiser. The thick rimmed steering wheel and sport button promise sporty driving, but when pushed moderately, the front heavy ES heads for the bushes. You know what? I’m OK with that. If you want something sportier, get a GS F-Sport. Out on the road the hybrid ES 300h gives up a bit more grip thanks to different tire choices and a bit more curb weight, but it countered that with an impressive 42MPG average in our brief test. Thanks to electric power steering, all models are as numb as a remote-controlled car. As the industry continues to chase MPGs, numb steering is getting so normal that the ES is no worse than a number of German vehicles I could mention. Despite what Lexus may tell you, the Sport mode doesn’t help much.

 

Lexus has not finalized pricing as of this time, but we were told to expect the ES 350 to be “substantially similar” in pricing to the 2012 model. In addition to not raising the pricing bar, Lexus claims the ES will have “the lowest hybrid premium in the luxury market.” Since the Lincoln MKZ hybrid is the same price as the gasoline version, make what you will out of that. With a pricing scheme likely to range from $37,500-$48,000, it is worth pointing out that this significantly undercuts the FWD Lincoln MKS and the FWD Cadillac XTS by a fair margin. While the new ES may not set your loins on fire, it does offer a compelling balance of luxury features and will no doubt continue to be Lexus’ best selling sedan. With competition like this, Caddy and Lincoln had better watch their back, Lexus isn’t pulling any punches.

Lexus flew me to Porland and put me up in a swanky hotel for 20 hours so we could attend the regional launch event. The food was great, the weather was terrible.

Specifications as tested

2013 ES 350

0-30 MPH: 2.55 Seconds

0-60 MPH: 6.35 Seconds

2013 ES 300h

0-30 MPH: 3.2 Seconds

0-60 MPH: 7.28 Seconds

 

2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, front, spindle grille, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Cargo, trunk, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Cargo, trunk, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, dashboard, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, dashboard, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, front grille, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Exterior, wheels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, door panels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Hybrid engine, 2.5L, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Hybrid engine, 2.5L, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Lexus ES 300h, Entune infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2012 Lexus ES350 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/review-2012-lexus-es350/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/review-2012-lexus-es350/#comments Sat, 17 Mar 2012 21:30:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=435004 2013 will bring a new version of the Lexus ES, and we’ve already seen its new mug from photographers in China. Yet even with the new ES in the wings, Lexus is on track to sell 40,000 “lame duck” models, making it the most popular Lexus car and the second most popular Lexus vehicle after the […]

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2013 will bring a new version of the Lexus ES, and we’ve already seen its new mug from photographers in China. Yet even with the new ES in the wings, Lexus is on track to sell 40,000 “lame duck” models, making it the most popular Lexus car and the second most popular Lexus vehicle after the RX350. As a goodbye to the “Lexus Camry,” we took one for a road trip from Northern California to Southern California – a sort of farewell to an important but sometimes misunderstood luxury car.

Last time we took a look at the ES350 was back in 2006, when Sajeev captained the all-new fifth generation ES350 for a week. Since then, the ES350 has had a mild face-lift with a revised grille, new tail lights and some new wheels. The overall proportions are all still slab-sided and plain, and the ES350 remains true to the Lexus mission statement: elegant and reserved. While the form is unlikely to ignite any serious passion, it is undeniably attractive, even when you figure in the slightly droopy nose (pictured above). Back in 2006 the stylish (but similarly boring) new LaCrosse didn’t exist yet, however in typical GM fashion the 2012 Buick merely matches rather than exceeds the ES350, making the volume Lexus a sound choice on aesthetics. Thankfully there are no “ventiports” to be found on the ES.

Stepping inside the ES350, it’s obvious why the ES sells well. While the styling and color choices may not be to everyone’s liking, Lexus’ attention to detail is class-leading, from perfect seams to perfect color matching on all the buttons and trim parts.  All ES models are equipped with your choice of birds eye maple or the reddish “brown walnut”  trim our tester was fitted with. If you believe true luxury comes with real dead treess inside, then the Lexus easily trumps the Acura and Buick with their plastic substitute. Taking the luxury feel up a notch, Lexus would be happy to sell you semi-aniline leather and a wood/leather steering wheel. We had the opportunity to take the ES350 for a 700-mile round-trip journey to Los Angeles, where it proved a comfortable highway cruiser with supportive seats, although I wished the range of adjustment was greater, as some drivers may not be able to adjust them to their liking. Should you need to haul the kiddos with you, it is possible to squeeze two rear facing child seats and a booster seat in the back. If your rear-seat occupants are adults, you should know that although the ES350 is a fairly wide vehicle, the thicker front seats and rear seat angles compared to its Camry cousin, with less room than the Acura TL, Hyundai Azera, Buick LaCrosse and Lincoln MKZ. The other side of the legroom-coin? Front seats that are thickly padded and comfortable. Expect 2013 to pay homage to the latest trend of faux-stitched dashboards, which is one area where the rubbery dash of the ES350 takes a middle-of-the-pack ranking.

Lexus starts the ES350 off with a standard 8-speaker sound system with in-dash 6 CD changer, XM Radio, and Bluetooth and iPod/USB interfaces. Jumping up to the $2,465 navigation package gets you a backup camera, XM data services (traffic, weather and stock quotes) and the OnStar-like Safety Connect system. The base system is one of the better entry units in this segment providing well-balanced audio and enough bass to satisfy most shoppers. Should you desire more, the $4,065 Mark Levinson sound system is available which combines the same nav system with a 14-speaker 7.1-channel audio system and a 6-disc DVD changer. iPod integration is as good as any entry in this segment save the superior SYNC systems from Ford and Lincoln. Unless Lexus has something new up their sleeve, don’t look to 2013 for major improvements as the latest Lexus models have shown little is changing with infotainment system software except for their new joystick-like controller, which I find difficult to use, and “Entune” smartphone app integration. I doubt the ES customer base cares about Bing searches and Pandora streaming (especially with draconian cellular data throttling in the USA).

People that dislike the ES or the Lexus brand usually resort to one phrase: “It’s just a fancy Toyota.” The ES350 shares essentially no touch-points or sheetmetal with the Camry (unlike the Lincoln MKZ and Ford Fusion), but they do share a drivetrain. The ES350 uses Toyota’s ubiquitous 2GR-FE 3.5L V6 engine, found in everything from the Camry to the Lotus Evora. While the engine isn’t as flashy as its direct injection cousin found in the IS350 and GS350, its 268HP and 248lb-ft of torque are about all you’d want in a front driver, it drinks regular 87 octane gasoline, and the lack of DI makes the engine quieter at idle than the DI engine in the new GS. Sending the power to the ground is the same 6-speed automatic the Camry uses with slightly reprogrammed shift points. The extra weight of the ES350′s considerable sound-deadening effort and luxury trappings as well as a slightly higher coefficient of drag are the reasons why the ES350 takes a 1MPG toll compared to the Camry. The EPA rates it at 19 city, 28 highway and 22 combined. During our 1,321 miles with the ES350 in mixed driving and plenty of high-speed I-5 travel we averaged a respectable 27MPG, only 2.9MPG less than the considerably less powerful LaCrosse eAssist in our tests, and within 1MPG of the direct competition. Before you consider this a win for the ES350, recall that the Buick and TL offer 300HP from their powerplants.

When the going gets twisty, those interested in twisting around the apex rather than getting twisted around a tree off the side of the cliff should probably buy the Acura TL. If floating along the road as if wrapped in a leather cocoon is more your style, the ES350 is the car for you. If you needed proof of the ES350′s mission, it can be found in the narrow and tall 215/55 tires selected for their comfortable ride and low road noise. In comparison, the TL’s standard 245 rubber yields far superior grip, and even the LaCrosse with it’s 235/50R18s could be described as a corner carver in comparison, yet that’s not the ES350′s mission. The light steering, eagerness to return to center, low road noise and soft suspension make the ES350 the car you want to take on a long American road trip, not a hot lap ’round the ‘ring.

Our tester was a Swansong Edition “Touring Edition” ES which for $110 over the base price adds some rich-looking saddle colored leather and some very red-looking maple trim. With the Touring Edition, you also have to select the $2,465 navigation system with backup camera, XM traffic and Lexus’ Enform system. Our car was also equipped with heated and ventilated seats for $640, a full-size spare with matching wheel for $205, the wood/leather steering wheel and shifter for $330 and a trunk mat for $105 bringing our out-the-door total; to $41,445 after an $875 destination fee. Adjusting for features and the lack of real-tree in the LaCrosse, the prices are fairly similar.

As the ES’s sales record has proved, I’m not alone in liking what many unfairly call a gilded Camry. While it’s clear that after almost 5 years of the competition catching up, the ES350 is no longer the clear-cut leader in this segment, it is never the less a firm competitor in its final year of sales. The ES350 may not be as exciting as an Acura, but with a solid brand reputation and dealers known to coddle shoppers, the ES350 will likely continue its success into the next generation.

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Statistics as tested

0-30MPH: 2.8 Seconds

0-60MPH: 6.4 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.8 Seconds @ 96MPH

Average economy: 27MPG over 1,321 miles

2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, grille, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, headlamp, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, tachometer, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, speedometer, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, speedometer, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, power button, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, driver's side dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, passenger's dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, center console, shifter, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, HVAC and infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, shifter, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, door panel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, trunk, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, trunk, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Engine, 3.5L V6, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Engine, 3.5L V6, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Lexus ES350, Engine, 3.5L V6, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes es350 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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New or Used: No Rondo in the Condo? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/new-or-used-no-rondo-in-the-condo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/new-or-used-no-rondo-in-the-condo/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2012 07:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=431780   TTAC commentator DougD writes: Hi Sajeev, I put the snowtires on Dad’s 2007 Kia Rondo yesterday, and right on cue we’ve got snow today. While we worked we talked about cars, of course. My parents are in their mid 70′s, Dad bought the Rondo new and there’s a lot to like about it. Upright seating, […]

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TTAC commentator DougD writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I put the snowtires on Dad’s 2007 Kia Rondo yesterday, and right on cue we’ve got snow today. While we worked we talked about cars, of course. My parents are in their mid 70′s, Dad bought the Rondo new and there’s a lot to like about it. Upright seating, good ingress for seniors, easy to park in the condo parking spot. It’s been reliable and still looks good, so the Rondo’s held up well.

Unfortunately Mom hasn’t held up quite as well as the Rondo. She’s got some back problems now and finds that the Rondo’s so-so seats, jouncy ride and boomy interior make it a literal pain to be in for more than short trips.

Ideally they’d like to replace it with something that combines the Rondo’s good points with great seats and a serene, quiet ride. They drive about 15,000 miles a year including the 900 mile trip to Myrtle beach each fall. All options are open from something new to a couple of years used.

What should they be looking at? I really have no idea since their wish list is pretty different from my own, but I guess this is the demographic that buys new cars.

Really enjoying your column.

Steve Answers:

It all depends on the size and the spaciousness they seek.

For a small ride with a bit of cushiness, I would test drive a Buick Verano. It seems to be the one small vehicle these days with Rondo like proportions that can provide your folks with a luxurious ride.

To be frank, the small ‘luxury’ car market has struggled for eons on end. From 1990′s Dynastys and Skylarks, to 1980′s Cimarrons and Sevilles. It’s very hard to build this segment into something sustainable for most automakers. The choices in this segment are just slim due to a lack of interest in ‘small’ luxury.

So if they’re willing to consider a midsize, I would opt for a gussied up prior gen Camry or a Lexus ES350. Both cars have rides that are like marshmallows with handling that is direct and easy. They are also the two most popular retiree vehicles I see in West Palm Beach.

Mature folks love these cars.Easy to drive. Soft. Nothing to worry about. It may not be your ideal. But for those who wish to simply go on a magic carpet to their favorite retiree villa, they are optimal vehicles.

Sajeev answers:

You people are quite literally torturing me!  How can I not recommend Panther Love in this case?

I will stop pigeonholing myself. I like Steve’s recommendation of a Buick Verano, even if I’ve never even seen one, much less driven it to know its worth the depreciation.  But the baby Buick reminds me of my time in a Camry LE on a business trip to Long Island, NY.  While I quite enjoy the stealthiness of the SE, the LE earned a bit of respect for its ability to absolutely obliterate bumps and smooth out a long hike down the Interstate.  It made a hectic commute much less so. If I had a bad back…you see my point.

Granted it lacked the isolation of a Panther in the same circumstances, but they are more common, easier to park, easier on fuel and perform well enough compared to a Rondo.  The ride is heavenly for someone like your Mom, it is the best in its class. So do it, go for a 2007-2011 Toyota Camry LE.

 

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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Capsule Review: 1990 Lexus ES250 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/capsule-review-1990-lexus-es250/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/capsule-review-1990-lexus-es250/#comments Fri, 04 Jun 2010 18:27:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=358123 As a nameplate, Lexus is now old enough to consume alcohol in all fifty states. Make no mistake, though: the brand Lexus has become is not the brand it was perhaps originally intended to be. Toyota and Nissan each launched with a (mostly) clean-sheet big V8 sedan and a warmed-over home-market showroom filler. For Nissan, […]

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As a nameplate, Lexus is now old enough to consume alcohol in all fifty states. Make no mistake, though: the brand Lexus has become is not the brand it was perhaps originally intended to be. Toyota and Nissan each launched with a (mostly) clean-sheet big V8 sedan and a warmed-over home-market showroom filler. For Nissan, the lineup was a short-wheelbase version of the all-new “President”, badged Q45, and a long-in-the-tooth Leopard coupe, yclept M30. Toyota introduced its “F1″ global flagship as the Lexus LS400. To keep the new LS from being lonely in the showrooms, a quick nose job was done on a JDM faux-hardtop midsizer, and the ES250 was born.

Perhaps the Japanese thought they could win the “D-class” battle against BMW and Mercedes-Benz as easily as they’d destroyed the British motorcycle industry or humiliated the American attempts to build subcompact cars. It didn’t quite work out that way. The Q45 badge moved to the rather dismal Nissan Cima before completely fading away. The M30 was a sales catastrophe, to put it mildly. While the current LS460 does about the same annual volume in the United States as the Mercedes-Benz S550, it does so with a base price that is almost $23,000 below that of the Benz.

It was the humblest of the original four offerings from Lexus and Infiniti that would go on to conquer, if not the world, then at least the continent of North America. Today, Lexus is one of the top-volume luxury brands in the market. Its killer Camry-derived duo of ES 350 and RX350 perennially occupy the top of their segments’ sales charts, generating over 100,000 sales per year. Lexus is one of the most famous success stories in the industry, but it began with a straight badge-engineering job of a nearly obsolete car.

For many years, Japanese home-market buyers equated “the hardtop look” with prestige and luxury. As a result, nearly every major Japanese sedan sold in the Eighties and Nineties was either a frameless-window car (as was the case with the first-generation Infiniti M45, sold in Japan as the Nissan Cedric) or was available in a more expensive, frameless-window variant (as with the Honda Accord Inspire and Toyota Corona EXIV). In Toyota’s case, the Camry was “upgraded” to become the Toyota Vista, as seen above. The advantages of using the Vista as the second Lexus were obvious. It could easily be made to comply with US regulations and it would be immediately familiar to Toyota owners looking to trade up.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but my family has some history with Lexus ownership in general and ES250 ownership in particular. In the winter of 1989 my father had his Jaguar XJ6 towed out of his garage stall to the dealership for the fourth time in about as many months. I advised that he try a Lexus as a temporary change in pace. I meant that he should buy an LS400, but upon his trip to the dealer he decided that

a) both of the Lexus vehicles were ugly pieces of crap;

b) in which case, the cheaper one would suffice.

And thus the old man acquired a two-tone-blue ES250. He’d never even so much as sat in a Camry, but I had, and I was shocked to see the lack of differentiation between the two. The steering wheel was different, the radio stack was different, and there were better seats in the car. That was it. Other than that, we were looking at a $23,500 variant of a $17,000 Camry V6.

The motor was surprisingly reluctant to rev, given that it was a 2.5L V6. It was also gutless at all revs; I got the somewhat mistaken impression that it was about as quick as my 302-powered Mercury Marquis coupe. On the freeway, it had less mechanical noise than a Camry but a fair bit more wind noise. The steering was loaded with syrup and the brake pedal sank halfway to the floor before providing any effective retardation. On the positive side, the stereo was very good and the interior was clearly screwed together with fastidious attention.

After a few years, the ES became Dad’s “Florida car”. The leather seats cracked, the dash faded to a whiter shade of blue, and the electronics started to quit. In 1994, with 122,000 mostly freeway miles on the odometer, the block cracked and Dad effectively gave the car away. I used to joke that he’d managed to transfer the reliability of his Jags and Bimmers to a Toyota.

The LS400 outsold the ES250 by quite a bit in the two years they were sold together. Toyota got the hint; the Vista became the vastly improved Windom and placing an “L” badge on said Windom yielded the ES300. Customers loved the result and the ES was placed on the road to complete domination. Over the next three generations, the ES/Windom continued to distance itself from the Camry, but the template had been set: everybody from Acura to Lincoln ended up copying Lexus and selling chrome-nose family sedans as entry-level luxury cars. In the case of the Lincoln Zephyr/MKZ, there was a double helping of irony since the Lincoln Versailles had been an unsuccessful riff on the Ford Granada fifteen years before the ES250′s introduction.

Speaking of irony, it’s worth nothing that in 2006, Toyota took the final step and discontinued the Windom nameplate, replacing it with… Lexus ES. It’s been the most successful example of badge-engineering since the half-million-selling ’76 Cutlass, and perhaps the only one where the rebadge turned around and swallowed the original nameplate. The Little Camry That Couldn’t eventually became the Big Lexus That Could.

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Capsule Review: 2010 Lexus ES350 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/capsule-review-2010-lexus-es350/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/06/capsule-review-2010-lexus-es350/#comments Thu, 03 Jun 2010 16:59:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=357998 It’s hard to fault the 2010 Lexus ES 350. There is no hint of rattle. The suspension feels as though it would take the worst New England washboard roads with aplomb. The steering is responsive and precise, and the handling crisp at modestly extra-legal speeds on Clifton VA’s marvelously twisty, hilly byways, despite 3,600 lbs […]

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It’s hard to fault the 2010 Lexus ES 350. There is no hint of rattle. The suspension feels as though it would take the worst New England washboard roads with aplomb. The steering is responsive and precise, and the handling crisp at modestly extra-legal speeds on Clifton VA’s marvelously twisty, hilly byways, despite 3,600 lbs of mass–almost parsimonious in this age of bloat–although you get the feeling you might begin to push the limits of crisp if you go much faster around here.

When you punch the gas the six-speed slushbox practically says “yes sir!” and salutes as it downshifts, and the melodiously burbling 272 hp, 3.5 L V6 blasts off. The ES has as much power as the South Seas had breadfruit back in Captain Bligh’s day. I mean, I can’t help thinking it would have blown The Rip Chords’ “Hey Little Cobra” right off of the track, along with the Stingray that the Cobra shut down back during the LBJ administration.

Oh, it would be nice to have RWD, as when you whomp the fun-pedal you feel the nagging symptoms of pull-power, a little bit of steering this way and that from cracks in the road, although I didn’t spin the tires once, a problem that plagued me with a VW Eos and other FWD fun cars. It’s actually amazing what this thing can do despite the absence of an optimal power train configuration. And if Heaven bestows it upon you, you are not going to sell it for the cash and hang onto your old WRX or whatever performance sedan from at least five years ago currently gives you your jollies.

Or maybe you might. Inside the Lexus there is space and comfort front and back, despite my elongated torso, which pushes my scalp to the roof in just about anything with a sunroof, and in this thing, too, though barely. But the damn greenhouse has such narrow slits that I feel like I’m in a space capsule, which would be fine if that were the moon down there. But it’s not the moon, it’s just Northern Virginia. Still, it’s beautiful out here in horse country. But even on the blasted Beltway, driving by Tyson’s Corner, I prefer to see my surroundings, and not just navigate through them.

Thanks to Will Meyer, of sureshotinc.com, Arlington, VA, for letting some maniac drive his car for TTAC

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